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JUSTICE MUST BE WON

Alabama/The Mobile News

 

Judge dismisses exposure case


Ruling means that Mark Bryant can return to his job at Murphy High School 


01/30/03

By GARY McELROY
Staff Reporter


For the second time in a month and for similar reasons, a second Mobile County judge has thrown out a case against someone accused of indecent exposure during a sting operation at a local park.

Circuit Judge Joseph "Rusty" Johnston, in a 12-page
ruling released this week, dismissed the case against Murphy High School Spanish teacher Mark Stephen Bryant.

Johnston's decision means Bryant can resume teaching classes at Murphy High School, according to Stephen Pryor, a spokesman for the school system.

"He was placed on paid administrative leave in July, pending the outcome of the case," Pryor said Wednesday. "Since the case has been dismissed, we have no reason to continue paid leave. He is scheduled to return to the classroom Monday."

Pryor was asked whether he anticipated objections from the parents of Bryant's students upon his return.

"I don't speculate," Pryor said. "In our criminal justice system, everybody is considered innocent until found guilty. Since the case has been dismissed and there are no pending charges, we don't have grounds to take any disciplinary actions against this employee.

"He has not been proven guilty of anything," Pryor said. "And I would hope that our parents would see it in this light as well. We have no intention of ever putting our children in a dangerous situation."

Bryant, named Murphy's teacher of the year in 2002, was unavailable for comment Wednesday. His attorney, Arthur Madden, when asked if his client intended to return to the classroom, said, "Of course he will go back to work."

Madden had argued that Bryant did not violate the indecent exposure statutes as defined in the Alabama Code.

The law says the victim must be affronted or alarmed by the behavior of the defendant, and, in Bryant's case, the victim was also the arresting officer, Johnston said.

Bryant was arrested at Crestview Park near Halls Mills Road on June 20.

Johnston said the undercover officer could not have been alarmed at Bryant's alleged behavior, since the officer initiated the encounter himself.

According to a narrative accompanying his order, Johnston said that the Mobile Police Department, in response to reports of "lewd and indecent" acts being committed in public parks, organized several sting operations last year.

During one such operation in June, the judge said, Mobile Police Officer Patrick McKean encountered Bryant "in a wooded area behind the park known for its biking and walking trails."

"Each questioned the other as to his reason for being at the park," Johnston said, quoting the officer's report, and McKean told Bryant he was "just cruising around." Each asked the other "what he got into."

McKean told Bryant, Johnston wrote, "I like to give."

After taking shelter beneath a pavilion during a brief rain shower, each man returned to the woods, Johnston wrote, meeting up after taking separate routes. After another brief conversation, McKean instructed Bryant to expose himself and when Bryant complied, McKean arrested him.

Johnston, paraphrasing the argument put forth by Madden, wrote that Byrant "could not possibly cause affront or alarm to officer McKean, who invited such conduct and was the only witness to the conduct."

He noted arguments from city of Mobile attorneys, suggesting it was "irrelevant" whether McKean himself was affronted.

"The intent of the statute is to protect the general ... public, which may not witness the exposure and not those who are engaging in the illegal activity," city attorneys argued.

Citing commentary in the Alabama Code, Johnston noted that what mattered was the effect on the "victim, rather than the effort to regulate and protect the morals of society generally.

"... An actual victim is required," Johnston wrote. "Officer McKean solicited the contact, and even encouraged the defendant to expose his genitals ... As such, the defendant's motion to dismiss is due to be, and is hereby GRANTED."

Johnston's ruling came in the wake of a similar ruling earlier this month by Circuit Judge James Wood, who acquitted former Mobile Register sports editor, John Cameron, of indecent exposure.

Cameron was arrested in a sting operation last February near Langan Municipal Park in west Mobile.

Wood said in his ruling he doubted the arresting officer was alarmed or affronted by Cameron's actions, since he solicited them. Cameron said he was merely urinating in the park at the time of his arrest.
 

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